Humanities as butter

C.P. Snow talks at length about the polarization of and the existence of two distinct cultures, where “This polarisation is sheer loss to us all. To us as people, and to our society. It is at the same time practical and intellectual and creative loss.” Snow writes that this loss owes it to a degree of incomprehension on both sides. This argument of the humanities versus the sciences is something that still exists strongly today, but I wonder if we can approach it from a different perspective.

Snow goes on to write that scientists don’t read, that one “tried” Dickens but it didn’t work out – but maybe a bigger question for our time now is if anyone reads today? Is this lack of literacy/reading for reading’s sake a disease of just the scientific or of the whole human race? Snow does mention earlier that in scientific culture, “its members need not, and of course often do not, always completely understand each other,” so perhaps he’d be inclined to lump the nonreaders with the scientific, seeing that they might have a scientific mood about them.

So while I agree that there is a versus going on between the sciences and the humanities, and that this incomprehension on both sides ought to be remedied somehow, the argument that seems to go on today leans more towards defending the sciences as having a stake in real world relevancy, in its lucrativeness, and everything seems to be against the humanities. What exactly are you going to do with an English degree? Again, that feeling might be skewed since I’m in the humanities (so I’d feel the brunt of the attacks anyway). But again, it seems like it’d be easier to just have everyone be open to reading/literacy/literary exercises more than it would be to encourage everyone to dabble in the sciences (a very surface point but something to consider). If science is the bread, literature/the humanities might be the butter, a new nice spice to life – and that’s not necessarily bad is it?

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1 Response to Humanities as butter

  1. fearthefin says:

    I liked going back to this post after our round-up discussion earlier today, particularly in how it re-addresses the “science versus literature” question. It’s certainly a debate that we’ve seen since the first few weeks of class (Dawkins’ “Unweaving the Rainbow”), and one that some seek to remedy through reconciliation.

    I liked going back to this area of tension in light of what Prof. Savarese pointed out today, about how literature is emotive and science is reason-based or progressive; science is after the facts, while literature is after something less concrete. This was, for me at least, one of those points so succinct that, once stated, seems obvious and universal. I guess that’s what I’ve noticed the most throughout this class — say, the main difference between Keats’ Lamia and someone like Latour. I especially liked the way this point classified Do Androids. Within these parameters, Do Androids, a seminal work of pop-culture sci fi, could be seen purely as a work of literature rather than science. I thought this point is evident in Deckard’s love of opera — to the point where he mourns Luba Luft’s death because she can no longer sing. As the class pointed out today, the arts have been in decline since their birth — if you want the best, you look to the original. Deckard’s love of opera in a futuristic, distractedly consumerist society certainly alludes to this idea.

    In fact, carried further, it almost makes the entire category of science fiction seem redundant or impossible. If these two genres or worlds are so at odds with one another, then how can a work successfully reconcile the two? As Snow (and you) point out, scientists don’t read Dickens.

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